Jennifer Doudna: We can now edit our DNA. But let’s do it wisely-5

Bruno Giussani: Jennifer, this is a technology with huge consequences, as you pointed out. Your attitude about asking for a pause or a moratorium or a quarantine is incredibly responsible. There are, of course, the therapeutic results of this, but then there are the un-therapeutic ones and they seem to be the ones gaining traction, particularly in the media. This is one of the latest issues of The Economist — “Editing humanity.” It’s all about genetic enhancement, it’s not about therapeutics. What kind of reactions did you get back in March from your colleagues in the science world, when you asked or suggested that we should actually pause this for a moment and think about it?

Jennifer Doudna: My colleagues were actually, I think, delighted to have the opportunity to discuss this openly. It’s interesting that as I talk to people, my scientific colleagues as well as others, there’s a wide variety of viewpoints about this. So clearly it’s a topic that needs careful consideration and discussion.

BG: There’s a big meeting happening in December that you and your colleagues are calling, together with the National Academy of Sciences and others, what do you hope will come out of the meeting, practically?

JD: Well, I hope that we can air the views of many different individuals and stakeholders who want to think about how to use this technology responsibly. It may not be possible to come up with a consensus point of view, but I think we should at least understand what all the issues are as we go forward.

BG: Now, colleagues of yours, like George Church, for example, at Harvard, they say, “Yeah, ethical issues basically are just a question of safety. We test and test and test again, in animals and in labs, and then once we feel it’s safe enough, we move on to humans.” So that’s kind of the other school of thought, that we should actually use this opportunity and really go for it. Is there a possible split happening in the science community about this? I mean, are we going to see some people holding backbecause they have ethical concerns, and some others just going forward because some countries under-regulate or don’t regulate at all?

JD: Well, I think with any new technology, especially something like this, there are going to be a variety of viewpoints, and I think that’s perfectly understandable. I think that in the end, this technology will be used for human genome engineering, but I think to do that without careful consideration and discussion of the risks and potential complications would not be responsible.

BG: There are a lot of technologies and other fields of science that are developing exponentially, pretty much like yours. I’m thinking about artificial intelligence, autonomous robots and so on. No one seems –aside from autonomous warfare robots — nobody seems to have launched a similar discussion in those fields, in calling for a moratorium. Do you think that your discussion may serve as a blueprint for other fields?

JD: Well, I think it’s hard for scientists to get out of the laboratory. Speaking for myself, it’s a little bit uncomfortable to do that. But I do think that being involved in the genesis of this really puts me and my colleagues in a position of responsibility. And I would say that I certainly hope that other technologies will be considered in the same way, just as we would want to consider something that could have implications in other fields besides biology.

BG: Jennifer, thanks for coming to TED.

JD: Thank you.



Om Namah Shivay

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